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First sexual violence conviction for IJM partner in El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR – After 11 months of hearings and against all odds, IJM’s implementing partner secured its first conviction. Thanks to the tireless advocacy of the Salvadorian Association for Rural Health (ASAPROSAR), the court ruled in favour of two young sisters, sentencing their stepfather to 26 years’ imprisonment for the crime of sexual assault. This is the maximum sentence possible by local laws.

Nancy and Liseth (pseudonyms) lived with their mother and stepfather in a community subject to such extreme levels of violence that even the police typically can’t enter. Nancy and Liseth were only 9 and 14 years old at the time the abuse started.

“[They] should have lived safely at home, but they didn’t. They lived with a person who was hurting them; the man their mother trusted to build a life with, to be a family, to be a father for her children despite no blood relations. Instead, he took advantage of the trust he had gained and sexually assaulted them multiple times,” said Roxana Salazar, ASAPROSAR’s Project Coordinator.

Once their mother discovered the abuse, she went against the cultural norms of their community and with ASOPROSAR support filed a formal complaint, beginning the hard journey of seeking justice. The case was taken up by investigators from the National Civil Police (PNC) who received mentorship from IJM El Salvador’s rule of law experts as part of an interinstitutional security roundtable created to support them with complex cases.  

Added to the stress of countless hearings and the personal and collective trauma lived by the family, was the lack of community support as neighbours blamed Nancy and Liseth for what had happened and called them liars.

Despite the significant court backlog due to, among other things, the closure of courts during the pandemic, ASAPROSAR and IJM stood by Nancy, Liseth, and their mother from their very first interaction with the justice system right up until a decision was made in court. After nearly a year of investigations and court hearings, the perpetrator was declared guilty.

“I can’t even believe it. I never thought that I would find people who would believe us. Everybody in the neighbourhood was blaming my children. Justice has been done and now we will walk the streets fearless,” declared Nancy and Liseth’s mother after hearing the court’s verdict.

“It takes a village to protect a child from violence. It takes a village to achieve justice and support the healing process of children who survived violence,” said Marla Gonzalez, IJM El Salvador Country Director. “Healing from trauma and ensuring your case doesn’t get lost in court is a journey no one should have to do alone. This is the reason why IJM is collaborating with community partners, like ASAPROSAR. Local organisations who work in some of the most dangerous communities in the country.”

Since 2019, IJM El Salvador and ASAPROSAR have partnered to empower ASAPROSAR´s staff to implement best practices in legal and aftercare support to women and children like Nancy and Liseth. ASOPROSAR helps victims of violence in two ways:

1) by encouraging and accompanying victims to access and interact with the justice system, providing free legal advice and psychological support to face the trial in the least burdensome way possible; and,

2) by creating a network of female survivors of violence to support other women and girls who suffer violence and advocate for them.

Nancy and Liseth are now safe at home with their mother, and they are continuing their therapy. The strong sentence in their case is evidence that investing in interinstitutional collaboration results in justice, even in communities where it looked impossible at first.

Pictured above: A drawing made by a survivor of violence at a training with community leaders in El Salvador.

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